26 November 2018

Head of Junior School

Let's Play

In the little bush behind my childhood home there stood a tree. It was the tallest tree in the bush, the perfect climbing tree. It had strong branches close to the ground to give the first important foothold and sturdy branches all the way to the top. From the top of the tree one could see the entire neighbourhood.

From when I began to go out to play with my friends, around the age of 3 or 4, the tree, that tree, was the challenge we all wanted to overcome. After many attempts, climbing up to a point and not feeling confident to go higher, only to try and get to the top another time. Eventually, perhaps years later, I made it to the top above the canopy of the bush and finally got to see where I lived from way up high. I remember the feeling of freedom and pride that I had finally done it.

This experience was one of many I gained because of the freedom I had to play as a child. Hours of play, further and further from home, away from adult supervision, provided me with many skills I needed as I grew up.

Childhood is different today. The freedom we had as children to play without our parents around is not the same today. Children and parents are busy with after school activities, technology attracts their attention, families are time poor, there are more cars on the road, parents have concerns about their children's safety. All contribute to less natural unstructured play opportunities for children.

Research demonstrates that the benefits of play for children are far reaching. It develops children's physical skills; fine motor, gross motor, balance and hand-eye coordination skills. Play is key in the development of the sensory system and body awareness and also contributes to increased physical activity levels and fitness.

Through play, a child's cognitive skills are enhanced. They naturally engage in problem solving, planning, sequencing in their play while developing their creativity, organisational and language skills.

Play allows for social and emotional skill development. The player will experience a range of emotions, explore different roles and extend their comfort zones. They will play in a naturally inclusive manner, learn to take turns, cooperate, negotiate, problem solve, persevere and become more resilient.

The overall well-being of the child will also improve. They will experience hope and optimism, become more creative and feel more self-efficacy in play, the classroom and other aspects of their life.

"We need to provide the conditions that allow children to push the boundaries of what is already known and easily accomplished so they can develop the competencies and skills they require for life."

Michael Follet - Founder of the Outdoor Play and Learning Program (UK)

We need to do our best to provide opportunities for unstructured play. In the busy lives of children and families, schools have an important role to play in offering play to children.

Play is self chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit

Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends

Play is guided by mental rules

Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality

Play involves an active, alert, but not stressed frame of mind

Peter Gray, Psychologist 2008

As a Junior School, we firmly believe that providing opportunities for the boys to engage in unstructured play is essential to their development as children and people. We have worked over the past several years to increase the quality and opportunity for our boys to play at break times. We are now looking at a new and engaging opportunity for our boys.

Loose Parts Play involves providing the boys with a range of materials for them to use to create their own play and engagements. They will create, use their imagination and develop the range of benefits listed above. The play they will engage in will be intrinsically motivating, freely chosen and personally directed.

The endless possibilities afforded by loose parts means that each child can play according to their stage of development, level of ability and range of interests. The boys are able to make their own 'just right' challenges to move from what is 'already known and easily accomplished' to the next stage.

We will create the conditions for play by providing loose parts materials such as sheets and pillow cases, electric cable reels, plastic guttering pieces, scales, hoses, tires, boxes (the list is long) and the boys will play. The research demonstrates that children engaged in loose parts play at school encounter fewer issues in the playground, are more creative in their play and in the classroom and are more willing to take risks in their learning.

We will be launching the Loose Parts Play with the boys in the Winter Term and I will be asking parents to donate what they have lying around at home or at work to the new initiative.

Play is fun for children, essential for their development and Loose Parts Play is coming to our playground soon.

Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School